The Nature Writers of Texas

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Green Jays Are Back
by Ro Wauer

Green jays are back in our area of South Texas once again. But this year they are present at numerous locations, some of which they have never before been recorded. For instance at least nine individuals in three flocks were found on the Guadalupe Delta Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Thursday, an area where they had never before been recorded. This was even though dozens of observers have combed the area as part of the annual CBC on each of the last six years. Betty and I found at least nine individuals in three separate flocks on Thursday. And closer to home, we have had at least five individuals in our yard near Mission Valley since November 7. Plus, neighbors have reported additional birds in the Mission Valley area during that same period.

The question that arises is why should these birds suddenly appear in our area? And why did they in 2006 depart after a few weeks and not reappear for two years? Three years ago on the Victoria CBC, counters first recorded a small flock off Lower Mission Valley Road. And a few days later seven individuals, maybe the same flock, appear at our Mission Oaks yard, and another small flock appeared near Mission Valley. All of these remained for about three weeks, and but then departed. Who knows what will happen to the Mission Valley birds this year.

It is not unusual for birds to wander after nesting, some for great distances. Even buff-bellied hummingbirds, one of our resident hummers that are not known to nest north of our area, can usually be found further north even into Louisiana in fall. These birds normally retreat southward by winter. This is likely to occur for our green jays, but their December-January appearance in the Golden Crescent is not part of a normal post-nesting dispersal.

One reason for some bird’s northward movement may relate to changes in essential habitat that could be related to either climate change or destruction of their habitat. It is pretty well accepted that some of the more mobile species, including many birds, can gradually move into acceptable habitats and leave habitats that are no longer acceptable behind. And that behavior of some species moving into new areas may, in a sense, be the testing of new areas. Locating new acceptable habitats eventually may prove useful if it becomes necessary to expand their range.

All of these ideas are possible for green jays. They certainly play a part in the movement of many species, especially birds and mammals. However, even less mobile species possess the ability to shift into better habitats when necessary. If their initial habitat does not meet all their needs they will either move or perish. Our current flocks of green jays are likely to return to wherever they came from by February, but they eventually may become full-time residents in our area. If so, they are more than welcome.

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